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One of the biggest US bands of all time with a string of hits from Desperado to Hotel California
The Eagles might not have invented country rock but they damn near weaponised it. The ever-shifting Californian outfit took the twangy, soulful and harmony-heavy sound of Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers, welded it to AM-radio pop and became probably the biggest American band of their generation. Over time, their oeuvre would widen considerably to include bluesy rock and ambitious epics, such as their magnum opus Hotel California.
The Eagles were originally more of a phoenix rising from the ashes of other bands. All four founding members moved to California as members of other groups, only to be left adrift when their respective bands splintered. Bassist and singer Randy Meisner, singer/guitarists Bernie Leadon and Glenn Frey, and singer/drummer Don Henley played one show together as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band. The quartet quickly realised they had natural chemistry and formed the Eagles in the autumn of 1971.
The band headed to London to record their self-titled debut with Glyn Johns (The Rolling Stones). The album provided the Eagles with their first two hits, most notably the enduring laidback anthem Take It Easy. After a summer of touring, they went back to England and set to work on their second album, again with Johns behind the desk.
The result was 1972’s Desperado, an outlaw-themed country album that delivered another hit (Tequila Sunrise) and one of the band’s most popular songs, the wistful title track Desperado. Following more touring, the band again headed across the Atlantic but this time butted heads with Johns over their desire to move beyond country rock. They parted ways with the producer after just two tracks had been recorded and instead hired Bill Szymczyk to finish the album.
That album turned into 1974’s On The Border, which delivered the band their first No.1 single with The Best Of My Love and also saw their ranks expand to a quintet with the permanent hiring of session guitarist Don Felder. Things were now heading steadily skywards but they took a giant leap with 1975’s hugely successful One Of These Nights. The title track was another No.1 single, while both Take It To The Limit and Lyin’ Eyes reached the Top 5.
At the end of 1975, Bernie Leadon departed the band, replaced by former Eagles opening act, Joe Walsh. As the band spent longer and longer on the road, they filled in the gap in releases with Their Greatest Hits (1971 – 1975). It would go on to become the first ever Platinum album in history and one of the biggest sellers of all time, shifting over 25 million copies.
It eventually became apparent that the Eagles had used their extended gap between releases very wisely. An eight-month stint in the studio produced Hotel California in December 1976, a cynical, often stunningly brilliant treatise on the death of the hippy dream and the shallow and sleazy reality of America in the 1970s. It was another massive success, going Platinum in a week, winning the Grammy for Record Of The Year and delivering two No.1 singles: the iconic title track and the downcast New Kid In Town.
Following an extensive world tour promoting the record, Meisner left the band and was replaced by Timothy B Schmidt, who’d already replaced Meisner once before when he left his pre-Eagles band, Poco.
The band took another 18 months to record a successor to Hotel California. The Long Run arrived in late 1979, finally replacing the last of the Eagles’ country rock roots with a sleek classic rock sheen. The single Heartache Tonight bagged them another No.1 and another Grammy.
Eagles Live, mostly recorded over a week of shows in Santa Monica, followed in 1980 but after that the band went quiet. It was finally confirmed in 1982 that they’d split up. All of the band’s remaining members went on to have lucrative solo careers, particularly Henley with Boys Of Summer and Frey with The Heat Is On from Beverly Hills Cop. Over the rest of the decade, they turned down countless offers to reform, Frey going so far as to say they’d get back together “when hell freezes over”.
Hell started to feel a bit of a chill in the early 90s when rumours circulated that Henley and Frey had been writing together again. Eventually, a proper reunion took place in 1994 for an MTV special, released later that year as Hell Freezes Over, featuring four new songs. A world tour followed and the band regularly came back together over the ensuing years for live performances.
Don Felder acrimoniously departed in 2001, resulting in a contentious lawsuit. That issue settled, the Eagles finally got back to the business of making music and released their first new album in 28 years, Long Road Out Of Eden, in October 2007.
A career-spanning documentary followed in 2013, kicking off another extended tour. However, shortly afterwards, Glenn Frey passed away at the age of 67. The band laid dormant for a year before restarting with his son Deacon in his stead, with country singer Vince Gill also joining on guitar and vocals.